Welcome back to Dance Business Asia, Mixmag Asia’s monthly column focusing on the business of dance music in the region. Dance Business Asia dives deep into the business issues confronted by artists, managers and promoters. We look at the economics of dance music in Asia to see what’s working, what isn’t, and how issues can be addressed. The column also features interviews with movers and shakers on the business end of the industry in the region. Your guide, Otto Clubman, is a music industry executive with over twenty years of experience in the dance business.
We’ve all heard the stories: DJ Solo, or whoever, did it all on his own! He wrote and produced the mind-blowing track, mixed and mastered it, designed the cover art himself, uploaded it and made a ground-breaking Claymation video for the song with old playdough he found under the couch. The song became a viral hit…and the cash flowed in.
Trust me, these are myths. Sometimes these fables are egged-on by the record companies themselves, as it’s a great story – everyone loves the “self-made” artist who did it on their own, outside of the system. It plays well to fans (but also deludes naïve musicians who think they can do that too). The fact is, in this day and age, the industry is too complicated, too sprawling, and — at the same time — too specialized, for anyone to really “make it” on their own. It takes a village of creative and business professionals.
Hey, slow down, Otto, you are thinking. What about all those songs I figured were so unique that it had to be a one-person job? Highly unlikely. You may have assumed that certain oddball hits like the classic Pen Pineapple Apple Pen must have been the work of a singular creative genius. Or, the iconic I’m Too Sexy must have sprung forth fully-formed from an enlightened individual creative mind.
"To create a song and actually turn it into a hit record takes a team. There may be a Master Chef (DJ Solo, in our example), but a lot of Sous Chefs are simultaneously frantically running around the kitchen, bringing the water to a boil, stirring the broth, keeping everything at the right temperature and sprinkling in the spices."
To create a song and actually turn it into a hit record takes a team. There may be a Master Chef (DJ Solo, in our example), but a lot of Sous Chefs are simultaneously frantically running around the kitchen, bringing the water to a boil, stirring the broth, keeping everything at the right temperature and sprinkling in the spices. And that’s just the creative side. The business side requires an entirely different set of skills. Actually, I’ve never cooked, so this may be a bad analogy. Therefore, let me be more direct: You can’t do it on your own. Admit it now; there’s no shame in it. Don’t get fooled by the myth of the Lone Wolf, because it won’t happen to you. (If it does, I’ll buy you a free one-year subscription to Mixmag Asia). I offer my advice this week right here upfront: Bring in the best team you can, as early as possible, to maximize your chances of success.
Dance music is actually one of the more collaborative forms of music. Every track with lyrics, essentially, is a collaboration, as the DJ/producer needs to find the right topline writer/singer for their song. This process adds a richness and diversity to the music, and the options are endless. One of the strengths of dance music is that every track from a particular DJ/ producer can sound fresh and different, given that new talent can be attached to each piece. I love Maroon 5, but I must admit, it does sometimes get a little boring listening to Adam Levine sing on every track…monotony eventually kicks in. The natural NEED to collaborate on a dance music track is one of the strengths of the genre – it makes the music more interesting, more international, more universal. Maybe this is the reason that many top DJs can keep producing well into their 40s, after most rock bands fall apart? It’s easier to keep things fresh when you can work with different talent, without constant rumours swirling that the “band is breaking up” due to the bass player’s side projects. In dance, they are all side projects, so to speak.
But back to the point: How many Chefs does it take to create a hit?
A quick list of the team you will need follows:
1. The beatmaker: Our DJ Solo
2. Lyricist / Topliner: Someone needs to turn your beat into a “song”
3. Singer (may be different): The selection of the singer may be based on artistic merits or a business calculation
4. Mixing & mastering professionals: It makes a difference!
5. Distribution platform: Record label or dumb pipe…you need to get it out there
6. Cover artist: You need a cover that pops!
7. Marketing and promotion specialists: Got to rise above the clutter; 40,000 songs are being released around the world every single day
8. Music video team: It’s essential these days; and a creative endeavour of its own. This alone could take a team of five to ….many more.
Actually, all of these individuals are “creative professionals” in their own way, and add to the artistry of the finished product. Not surprisingly, once eight or nine people get their fingerprints on the track, the sound may have veered in a very different direction from the time when DJ Solo first created the beat in his bedroom. However, this journey is usually for the better. More ears on a track – in the hands of the right professionals – can work wonders. No single person should be expected to be an expert in every aspect of the creative or business endeavours required to create and market a hit. Division of labor leads to maximum results.
"Of course, once the song is ready to go to market, all these participants may decide to let DJ Solo take all the credit – as this fantasy may help sell more albums."
Of course, once the song is ready to go to market, all these participants may decide to let DJ Solo take all the credit – as this fantasy may help sell more albums. But they’ll know they played a part. And hopefully, they’ll each also collect their few cents on each dollar of sales.
So, as to the age-old question, how many “chefs” does it take to create a hit record? The answer is: More than you’d think.